By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — My father returned home and was clearly exhausted; he silently got off of his bike and fell into an armchair. We became worried thinking that he was suffering a great deal of pain and we ran to help him; but he stopped us by stretching out his right arm with an open palm. We asked him questions, worried, and he said: “I’m not sick, I’m frustrated.”
He had gone to four pharmacies and had waited in lines at two of them and he still hadn’t managed to get hold of any of the medicines he needs. We found out very early in the morning that some medicines had come back into stock and he had run out to try and buy them, but it was useless. It has been very hard to come across the most sought-after medicines for months now, that is to say this year so far.
My wife suffers from rheumatic fever and relies on painkillers and anti-inflammatories to feel better; even more so during the rainy season like we have now. They ran out over a month ago, and there’s no way of finding them, even on the black market. Not to mention that everyone at home is allergic: I have three children and only one bottle of loratidina syrup that we could get along with two dipirone tablets. We were lucky, because news that it had come in took us by surprise recently and we went with the baby, who has priority in the lines.
I spoke to the sales lady at the pharmacy and she told me: “we don’t have 98 medicines and among them are the most sought-after: painkillers, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, sedatives, etc.” A friend of mine, who is 71 years old, broke out cursing the system when they told him that there wasn’t any captopril left, which is essential for him and his wife, because they both have high blood pressure. “This is bullshit,” he told me from the heart, his face shriveled, as if he were rejecting all of his usual defense of the system he worked so hard for.
The medicine situation in Cuba today is truly terrible and these are just some familiar examples of a phenomenon that is widespread across the country. Doctors give you prescriptions and then you throw them into the garbage after two or three weeks, when you are tired of going to pharmacies just for the fun of it: they don’t put them on sale very often and it’s never enough for everyone. Scrambling crowds of people, like the line for beer at carnival time, give us a sad and painful landscape. People fighting tooth and nail to get something they need because they have illnesses and need to sacrifice greatly in order to buy them.
On the street, you only hear people complaining about the situation which is only getting worse; a situation which has always been difficult, critical, but incredibly enough, has the potential to be much worse.
When Fidel was president and Carlos Lage his right hand man, there were crises like this one and that’s why medicine supplies became a “priority” on the government agenda. This was the only way the situation became more or less stable, although never completely efficient: some medicines were always missing; or you had to wait a few days for them to be put on shelves; or this or that one were missing.
As a result, the Public Health Ministry’s drug company was transferred to Basic Industry (today just Industries); so that it would have more resources, dynamism and direct control. And there wasn’t a single government meeting where officials didn’t speak about these missing medicines.
This was the only way that medicine supplies would work in an acceptable manner, because in the Cuban system, which is dysfunctional, what works or more or less works is because the upper echelons of politics are pushing it from above. If they take their eyes off of it or lose their interest, it will fall apart and stop working altogether.
This is precisely what is happening right now, they took their eyes off of such a crucial and sensitive issue to the people. And it will surely take them months to fix the problem and make the situation stable again because there is a great liquidity crisis in Cuba’s State coffers; the result of large payments for oil supplies because Venezuela cut its quota which it promised in its Petrocaribe agreement, which is to be paid over 25 years.
And our economy heavily relied upon this friendly gift because it doesn’t have a lot of guarantees for those who offer international credit; because in spite of the boom in tourism on the island, other sectors aren’t growing; because in the Raul Castro administration of over 10 years, it hasn’t dared to promote real change which would encourage an economic system capable of mobilizing production forces and triggering productivity of their work. It doesn’t happen because they are afraid of the private sector’s growth and empowerment, as they would automatically stop being “held by the nose”, by the usual mechanisms of social control; and this is what they are afraid of, of losing power and control.
These are the results of thinking as an empowered political class first and not as a country, not even with the respect that a people who, still don’t exercise their rights, deserve. Political reluctance to make changes is also a sign that they haven’t even fulfilled their own Concept of the Revolution; because if they had “changed everything that needed to be changed”, things would surely be working a lot better; and we wouldn’t be in such a serious crisis, where medicine shortages are only the tip of the great iceberg that is economic ruin.
Raul Castro will leave behind a sad legacy if he finally steps down from the presidency next year, like he’s promised: a country in crisis and without any promising signs for the future. These medicine shortages which are only getting worse and his government’s unsuccessful management for more than a decade have only served to reaffirm the invalidity of Cuba’s political and economic system.